Race recap: They don't call Vermont the Green Mountain state for nothing! We walked from the hotel (Palmer House) directly to the start line (less than 0.2 miles) and despite some wet shoes from the marshy walk we were ready to go. The first mile almost every runner shot out of the gate like a true horse race - everyone was flying. I glanced down at my watch and when I saw 7:14 I signaled to Kristin that we needed to slow down a bit - this was not the point in the race to burn ourselves out. At the 1 mile marker the 5k split to the left and the half marathon to the right. I honestly expected a majority of the runners who flew out of the gate to head for the 5k, but was pleasantly surprised to see almost everyone was running the half and quipped to Kristin "wow, these Vermonters sure can run!' Mile 4 marked the top of the first truly long uphill (about 1.5 miles of a gradual incline), but we were both too distracted by the incredibly views and scenic forests surrounding the course to notice that our bodies were beginning to wear. The next few miles were fairly downhill which gave us a false sense of hope that the looming category 5 hill (seriously this hill actually has a category) from mile 8 to 9 wouldn't hurt too bad. Unfortunately for our legs they don't put a category number on a hill unless it is brutal. We somehow made it to the top - albeit at a slow but fairly steady pace - and immediately felt sorry for every rider that has ever ridden in the category 1 laden Tour De France! We did earn a nice downhill for the next mile or so, and happily came to the finish line in 1:50 - a time we were both very happy with given the challenging course and the fact that we had not raced together in over 3 months.
Highlights: reaching the summit of a long and tough uphill climb at mile 9 and finishing very strong (we ran the final 5k at ~8:00 minute pace).
Tip: Don't worry too much about the monster hill at mile 9 - just enjoy the scenery.
Day 1 (Friday):
Albany Pump House (formerly known as CH Evans Brewery) is an old factory which was converted to a very unique and interesting brew pub. The pump house serves up a fantastic turkey, stuffing, cranberry and melted cheese sandwich on a toasted sub. We swapped out the standard fries for the house specialty pierogis - fried and served with a side of gravy (absolutely delicious). The lunch was like a thanksgiving celebration in sandwich form and paired quite well with their famous brown ale (several beer awards). One of the best restaurants in Albany for a reason.
Howe's Caverns (45 minutes south of Albany) provides a very unusual underground cave tour. In addition to about a half mile of paved paths 156 feet below ground, the perfect temperature of the cave (52 degrees Fahrenheit all year round) made for a very relaxing guided tour of the cavern. The highlight of the tour was the 10 minute boat ride through the back half of the cave - a truly special and incredibly unique experience. Near the end of the tour we were led through the “Winding Way”, a 300 yard stretch of very narrow and tight tunnels, which involved a lot of ducking and maneuvering but was pretty fun.
Madison Brewery is a local favorite brew pub in Bennington, Vermont. We enjoyed a sampling of Madison's brews at the bar while chatting with the locals about the after effects of Hurricane Irene the week before we arrived (our favorites samplings were Bucks Honey Wheat, which is made with Vermont honey, and Wassick’s White Wall, a Belgian style wheat ale with a touch of coriander). After sweet talking the owner (and with a little help from our new friends) we were able to secure a taste of the extremely limited release strawberry Hefeweizen beer - which was tasty and light. Pretty good beers, especially considering the small size of the brewery. Worth a stop if you are in Bennington or headed towards the Manchester area.
Tip: Check out their website to find their continually changing seasonal brews (only brewed once, so try them while they last).
After getting talked into listening to the pre-race motivational speaker (a college professor in Vermont who somehow compared her recent experience competing in the Kona Ironman world championships to running a 5k) we headed for a semi-late pre-race dinner at Garlic John's. Classic as classic comes we tried the local linguini and meatballs - which paired well with the fresh baked wheat bread. The food service was great, but it did take a while to actually get the check.
Tip: we were not super hungry and ordered the half portion, but the chef mistakenly gave us both full portions, which we both ended up nearly finishing (in short, the full portion is a decent pre-race size).
Day 2 (Saturday - Race Day):
Mrs. Murphy's Donuts has repeatedly been voted one of the best donut shops in Vermont. The maple crème was tasty (local maple syrup frosted donut filled with traditional custard) and the honey dew and honey dip (cake donut dipped in honey and yeast donut dipped in honey) were good but really nothing special. Good but not great donuts – but if you venture here make sure to try the maple frosting you won’t be disappointed.
Zoey's Deli has been rated Zagats #1 deli in Vermont for ten years running - and based on our experience it will be eleven years soon. The homemade breads were incredibly fresh and absolutely delicious. I had the Reuben special on marble rye, which was very lean with just the right amount of cabbage and Russian dressing and is a sandwich I would eat again in a heartbeat. Kristin tried the chicken curry on honey wheat bread which she described as delicious but ginormous. The homemade potato chips (come with every sandwich) are a bit doughy and have an incredible starchy taste which just begs you to eat another, and another, and another...
Tip: Make this your #1 deli stop in Vermont, but bring a friend and split a sandwich as even after working up an appetite running 13.1 miles we both barely finished half of our massive sandwiches!
While our next planned stop was to see cheese being made at the famous Cabot cheese plant and ice cream production at the original Ben and Jerry’s factory tour, Hurricane Irene's devastating effects 6-days before our arrival caused several road closures, collapsed bridges and a revised itinerary for our day (the Vermont locals were extremely hospitable during our trip and we deeply hope they recover quickly from this unfortunate disaster).
Otter Creek Brewing (Middlebury, Vermont), which was the first organic certified brewer in the country offered a chance to stretch our legs (the road closures and detours had made our drive a bit longer than originally expected) and sample some great beers. The Pumpkin Ale (made with locally grown organic pumpkins) was outstanding and absolutely the best beer we tried while in Vermont. The Black IPA was also quite good and worth a taste.
After a long drive we stopped to check out the sights and sounds of Lake Champlain in downtown Burlington. I think the detours and long day of driving took it’s toll on me as I was a bit lethargic despite some fantastic harbor views. This looks like a great place to rent a bike for a few hours and tour along the waterfront.
Tip: Look for street parking – there are a few pay lots, but they are quite expensive unless you are planning to stay at the waterfront for the entire day.
Duino Duende describes itself as an international streetfood fare. Not having any clue what that meant, Kristin and I put on our adventure pants and kicked it into high gear to this trendy restaurant. We were lucky to grab a seat outside and soak up some sun with our dinner – plus the music inside the restaurant was pretty loud. Kristin paired the subtle and tasty house red (Tinto Lena; Spanish) with the fish tacos, which were fresh and well prepared. I sampled the mushroom burger (made of a variety of mushrooms, no meat) with the Switchback Ale – a bit heavier than I expected, but one of my favorite Vermont brews. A bit of a trendy spot for dinner, but the diverse and interesting menu makes this a good option.
In talking with several Vermont locals during our trip we repeatedly heard that we should try the beers at the Vermont Pub & Brewery. We sampled a majority of this English style brewery’s beers and found some flat (Bombay IPA) or over-fruit infused (Forbidden Fruit) but we both did like the Burly Irish Ale – which despite it’s burly name is actually a lightly hopped and very easy drinking beer.
Day 3 (Sunday):
The Skinny Pancake, located right on the waterfront, is an outstanding breakfast stop in Burlington. While some parts of Burlington came seem a bit weird and hippyish, this restaurant appeared to cater to everyone by serving up fantastic crepes made entirely with locally grown ingredients. We both tried Noah’s Ark (two eggs, two slices of bacon and two frumples – sweet crepe twisted into a pancake and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar). Absolutely delicious.
Tip: Arrive early as the restaurant is not too large and was pretty crowded by the time we were leaving (~8:45am Sunday).
We decided to break-up the drive from Burlington to Albany with a stop at Shelburne Orchards to pick some apples and sample some fresh pressed apple cider. We arrived during the orchard’s annual small farms food fest (~20 local farms and vendors had samples and tastings). After some apple picking – which was really fun even if the ground was a bit soggy - and local cheese sampling (the Taylor Farms Gouda was some of the freshest cheese and by far the best gouda we have ever eaten) we headed into the barn to watch apples being pressed into cider. Although not quite what I had envisioned – essentially a giant hose spraying mashed apples onto a 2x2 foot press – it was still neat to see the process in action and to sample the cider straight off the production line (you could actually taste the apple peels in the cider). A fun stop, especially if you are looking to pick some apples.
Lunch at the Olde Bryan Inn in Saratoga, New York (established in 1773) was like stepping into a time machine. The old world restaurant had obviously been retrofitted over the years, but careful details were made to keep the integrity of the restaurant authentic while offering modern conveniences. We decided to each order the sausage and corn chowder and split the turkey with stuffing sandwich. The chowder was outstanding with the perfect amount of sausage to compliment but not overpower the soup. The half turkey with stuffing sandwich was huge – bread pilled high with fresh turkey, homemade stuffing and gravy with a side of cranberries and steamed vegetables (asparagus and carrots). An extremely tasty and filing lunch.
Tip: Print off this coupon to save $5 Sunday through Thursday (they are sticklers about actually providing a printed copy of the coupon).
Our last stop was a brief drive through Skidmore College’s campus. The entire surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous (some of the nicest houses and estates we saw while in New York). The College is quite small, but had a very nice homey feel as we took our brief tour through the quad.
Vermont Half Marathon Medals
September 10, 2011: Maple Leaf Half Marathon